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A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation

Allen, M. R., Shine, K. P., Fuglestvedt, J. S., Millar, R. J., Cain, M., Frame, D. J. and Macey, A. H. (2018) A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation. npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, 1. 16. ISSN 2397-3722

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/s41612-018-0026-8

Abstract/Summary

While cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dominate anthropogenic warming over centuries, temperatures over the coming decades are also strongly affected by short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), complicating the estimation of cumulative emission budgets for ambitious mitigation goals. Using conventional Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) to convert SLCPs to “CO2-equivalent” emissions misrepresents their impact on global temperature. Here we show that peak warming under a range of mitigation scenarios is determined by a linear combination of cumulative CO2 emissions to the time of peak warming and non-CO2 radiative forcing immediately prior to that time. This may be understood by expressing aggregate non-CO2 forcing as cumulative CO2 forcing-equivalent (CO2-fe) emissions. We show further that contributions to CO2-fe emissions are well approximated by a new usage of GWP, denoted GWP*, which relates cumulative CO2 emissions to date with the current rate of emission of SLCPs. GWP* accurately indicates the impact of emissions of both long-lived and short-lived pollutants on radiative forcing and temperatures over a wide range of timescales, including under ambitious mitigation when conventional GWPs fail. Measured by GWP*,implementing the Paris Agreement would reduce the expected rate of warming in 2030 by 28% relative to a No Policy scenario. Expressing mitigation efforts in terms of their impact on future cumulative emissions aggregated using GWP* would relate them directly to contributions to future warming, better informing both burden-sharing discussions and long-term policies and measures in pursuit of ambitious global temperature goals.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:77502
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group

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